Prostate cancer

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Finding prostate cancer early

When prostate cancer is detected and treated early, the chances of successful treatment are better. Recognizing symptoms and getting regular checkups are the best ways to detect prostate cancer early. The sooner symptoms are reported, the sooner a doctor can diagnose and treat the cancer.

Men over the age of 50 should talk with their doctor about whether they should have testing for early detection of prostate cancer. The following tests may be used to help detect prostate cancer early:

  • digital rectal examination (DRE)
    • DRE is the most common way to check for prostate cancer.
    • Most prostate cancers develop in the peripheral zone of the prostate. The peripheral zone is the part of prostate that is closest to the rectum and can easily be felt by the doctor during a DRE.
    • A normal prostate feels smooth and rubbery. The doctor feels for lumps and changes in the size, shape and consistency of the prostate. Prostate cancer can feel like a hard or lumpy area.
  • prostate-specific antigen (PSA) test
    • The PSA test helps detect problems with the prostate, including prostate cancer.
    • It measures the amount of prostate-specific antigen in the blood.
    • The prostate makes PSA. It is normal to find small amounts of PSA in the blood, but problems with the prostate can cause the PSA level to rise.
    • A PSA test may find abnormalities in the prostate better than DRE, but it isn’t a perfect test for detecting prostate cancer.
    • Sometimes, high levels of PSA are caused by problems other than prostate cancer, and men with prostate cancer do not always have high levels of PSA.

Using these tests together is better than using either test alone, so these 2 tests are often used in combination. A DRE and PSA test can help detect prostate cancer early, but they are not 100% accurate. They can sometimes miss prostate cancer when it is present (false negative) or cause false alarms by suggesting that prostate cancer is present when it isn’t (false positive). In some cases, these tests can detect prostate cancer that may not pose a serious threat to a man’s health. Some prostate cancers grow very slowly and can be present for years without affecting a man’s health.

Research currently shows that the risks of testing for prostate cancer may outweigh the benefits of screening men at average risk of developing prostate cancer.

It is important for men to talk with their doctor about their personal risk of developing prostate cancer and about the benefits and risks of testing.

High-risk individuals

Men who are at higher than average risk of developing prostate cancer may need to be tested at an earlier age than people with average risk. Examples of what puts a person at higher than average risk include:

  • African ancestry
  • family history of prostate cancer

Men who are at higher than average risk should talk to their doctor about a personal plan for testing.


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